No One Heard the Scream (1973)

For some, life is a highway, for others, a dream. For many of us, life’s journey is just a series of paths, each one paved by a firm decision to go in one direction or another. These inflection points might seem arbitrary in the moment, like choosing between a salad or sandwich for lunch. Only with the benefit of hindsight does the magnitude of our choices become apparent. NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM (Spanish: NADIE OYO GRITAR), a 1973 psychological suspense thriller by Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia, demonstrates how timing is everything and the decision to skip scheduled air travel can lead to lies, overpriced cocktails, boat rides, and maybe even a bubble bath with your neighbor.

Elisa (Carmen Sevilla) is a high-priced escort dividing her time between her home in Madrid and London, where she maintains an ongoing arrangement with an older, wealthy gentleman named Oscar (Antonio Casas). He gives her money for shopping trips, pays upfront for her airline tickets to visit him, and makes regular deposits to her bank account back home. When she decides on a whim to skip her latest scheduled trip to London, her weekend plans (and life trajectory) drastically change.

When Elisa arrives at home, she encounters another tenant, Miguel (Vicente Parra), in the hallway of her apartment building as he struggles to make some DIY changes to the door lock on an elevator. They exchange awkward pleasantries, and she goes to her adjacent apartment for a relaxing shower (after a snippy phone conversation with her lover in London). She takes a quick look through the peephole before going to bed and sees Miguel still in the hallway, but this time he’s dragging something towards the elevator. She briefly opens her apartment door for a clearer view and immediately wishes she had stayed inside – Miguel is moving a corpse!

After failing to gaslight his neighbor about what she saw, Miguel finds his way to her balcony and flashes a handgun; she relents and allows him into her apartment. Over a glass of “good whiskey” and a somber allusion to his dead wife, he describes that there are now two options: suppress the witness (Elisa) or include her as an accessory in the clean-up process. If there’s no body, a crime never occurred. To his credit, Miguel offers to do all of the gnarly stuff.

The ordeal leads them from the urban apartment building through a winding country drive – where they encounter multiple obstacles, including a bus accident and tense interactions with the police – and to the coast where Elisa keeps a seasonal home. There, the pair unexpectedly runs into her younger lover, Toni (Tony Isbert), who has suspicions about her new male companion but otherwise keeps his distance (while mostly shirtless). Elisa leads Miguel to believe that Toni is her nephew, and he never questions the relationship further. None of these people would make an especially good detective, but that’s because they have more important matters on their minds.

That this film succeeds at all with such an outrageous premise – a character is not so much violently coerced as they are firmly nudged into helping to dispose of a dead body – is a testament to the dramatic and technical skills of the players involved. Miguel articulates his logic behind his decisions in advance while he maintains a cool demeanor throughout; we rarely get the impression Elisa is in the company of a violent criminal, but rather a desperate man who leans on his writerly background to problem solve. Elisa repeatedly exhibits an ability to think quickly on her feet, even in response to sudden and threatening changes in the situation that put them both at greater risk. The various changes and the duo’s reactions to them feel natural but also serve as fuel that keeps this story burning until the very last frame.

The extent to which all of this does or does not work for you is largely dependent on whether you enjoy watching Carmen Sevilla and Vicente Parra onscreen together in these roles and dealing with their predicament, because once their paths cross, the development of their bizarre relationship occupies the bulk of the runtime. The power dynamic between them is constantly shifting throughout the story, sometimes multiple times within the same scene. While you never quite know who has the upper hand in a given moment, it’s fun to keep guessing.

The film’s terrific shot composition and editing helps to do much of the heavy lifting to boost the narrative. Cinematographer Francisco Fraile brought more than a decade of experience to the set and worked with director Eloy de la Iglesia previously on 1971’s THE GLASS CEILING (EL TECHO DE CRISTAL), so one might suspect they had some creative shorthand to get what they needed visually from each scene. They were equally fortunate to collaborate with editor Antonio Ramírez de Loaysa (WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?) who, with 233 film credits over a five-decade career, may have been the busiest film editor in the history of Spanish cinema. His editing imparts the film with a brisk pace, even when multiple scenes bust at the seams with dialogue.

Remove or ignore the more distinct genre elements like the Hitchcockian emphasis on voyeurism and one could argue that NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM is a wildly unconventional love story. It seems a more fitting descriptor than the “Spanish giallo” used by some reviews, as the film lacks most of that genre’s typical markers – e.g., whodunit killings, stylized gore, police procedural tactics, black gloves and blades, etc. – and it has very little onscreen violence at all. Still, the film’s ending manages to pack the sort of climactic wallop that a lot of gialli wish they could emulate in their third-act reveals.

If you’re currently considering leaving your home to see the latest tent-pole Hollywood production at the multiplex theater, I’d encourage you to instead stay put and pour a finger (or two) of good whiskey to watch NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM (now streaming on Tubi). The decision could change your life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s